Top 10 Automatic Replies to Avoid



1. “Just a Minute.”

When parents say this, they are generally just placating the child.  You may think you mean, “Just a minute…” but it usually turns out to be much longer than that, if at all.  Your words hold a lot of weight with your children, and if you say “just a minute…” then that is a promise that you should keep.


2. “Not right now.”

The better answer is to get in the routine of making time as soon as you get home.  When you walk in the door you should  stop, drop and listen.  Stop when you walk in the door, drop to your knees, and listen to your children, hug them and play with them.  They’ll get bored with you in 60 seconds anyway.  Then you can take care of other things.

3. “No.”

Sometimes  we get in the habit of just answering “no” before we actually think about the possibilities.  Next time you feel that answer gurgling up from the depths, swallow it and really consider the question before you answer in the negative.

4. “Maybe.” or “We’ll see.”

This is a great parental stall…not saying “no” and not saying “yes.”  You think that you can buy yourself some time.  And you can—for a little while, but then the kids understand that this often actually just means “No.”  “We’ll see is the cousin to “Maybe.”  A little more hopeful, and sometimes leads to a “Yes.”  But what are you waiting to see?  If there are circumstances that prevent you from answering at the moment, then be specific.  Q: “Mommy, can we go to the park?”  A: “If you complete your homework and help clear the dishes after dinner, then we can go to the park.”


5. “Ask your mom/dad.”

Ok, let’s be real on this one.  Usually this means that the answer is “no” but you don’t want to be the one to break the bad news, so you hand it off  to your spouse to do the dirty work for you.

6. “Honey, I’m busy, maybe later.”

When we come home from work, many of us bring additional responsibilities home with us.  It’s understandable to have to bring your work home sometimes, but if this is an everyday occurrence that interferes with time with your spouse or kids, then you may want to reevaluate your priorities.  If you do have to work at home, do it after your spouse and kids go to bed.

7. “We can’t afford that.”

We are all for fiscal responsibility and for teaching our children the value of things.  However, sometimes we fall into the trap of using that as an excuse.  If you can’t afford something,  or if it’s just something your child wants and doesn’t need, then think about some ways for them to make some money to buy it. For example, give them an allowance for doing regular chores . Here are some ideas.

8. “Because I said so.”

Parenting can be very frustrating, especially when confronted with, “but, why??” questions.  It’s easy to resort to this answer, but it really doesn’t work to foster open communication.  It’s important for your children to learn to respect your authority and your decisions, but you also want to encourage them to communicate with you.  So either explain your position or, if that’s not enough, sometimes it’s okay to say something like, “I know you don’t understand why, you’ll just have to trust me as your mom/dad.”

9. “Shhh!  I’m on the phone.”

The great thing about phones is that they work after the kids have gone to bed.  If you want to make a phone call to a friend, let it wait until after your children have gone to sleep.  Teach them to be courteous and well-mannered by not interrupting you, but also show them that you value your time together.

10. “I can’t talk now,  this is my favorite show.”

Ouch!  What kind of message does this send to your spouse or child?  It says that a television program is more important to you than they are.  So turn off the tube or at least  pause it, stop it or record it and then watch it later.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Michelle

    Guilty as charged…

  • Inhisgrace1979

    Some of these are great but some are things that children need to hear. If I am on a call that is business then I can’t call after the kids go to bed. Also children have to learn the self control of waiting and that the parents and other adults can’t always respond instantly to their every whim. By putting these on a list you give parents that they should never be said, rather than they should be used sparingly.

  • David

    Big offenders: the parents on their cell phones while driving up to the preschool and while walking with their child into the preschool. Couldn’t the last 5 or 10 minutes that child has with you be WITH you and not just in the car, van or SUV listening to you talk or listen (and must that call be made or taken right then?). Depending on the age of the child, I recommend taking care of business before going home or making the decision that the business can wait until the next day. While I agree that a child should learn when to be patient, when something has to get done and that parents cannot always respond instantly to the child’s needs or wants, parents should give some thought, more GOOD thought, to whether the voice mail on the phone works, whether the Reply to email can wait a bit, and whether those few minutes some parents share with their own child can be enhanced, increased, and improved with just a little consideration.

    Before my little boy joined my world, I met a good friend for dinner. This guy is one of the most direct and efficient businessmen I’ve ever known. When I took a call on my cell phone and stepped out of the restaurant to take the call, he was incensed. At first, I thought he was too sensitive, after all, we are pals, good pals. But that was his point. He shared that he thought I was rude even to bring my phone in with me (he left his in his car) and that I’d take a call other than an emergency sent the message that he could wait and our conversation just wasn’t that important to me. This was a mature man. Now, get down on a little child’s level when his or her Mommy or Daddy sends the message through their conduct that the child just isn’t that important. Don’t intend to preach. I share to help as we are not always aware of how what we do sends a message that these little children just cannot comprehend, nor should they have to comprehend.

  • Mark Merrill

    Thanks for your feedback everyone!

  • Mel

    Great thoughts and ideas. I agree on most of the “excuses”, but you know there has to be a but. In a perfect world when we can talk to our friends only after 8 or 9pm, there are many times when we have to speak to someone during “working” hours. We as parents have to teach our kids to respect adults when we are talking to other adults. It has to be a balance of time and respect. It’s not all about us or all about them. How do we balance the two worlds? We get down on our knees and beg God to show you wisdom and discernment on how to handle life’s situations. If we seek Him first in all we do, I believe that more and more, we will be using these excuses less and less.

  • Mike

    What a great list. Thanks for the reminders of what is usually said without even really thinking about it.

  • Mark Merrill

    You are so welcome, Mike!

  • julia

    much of this list is important to note for adult-to-adult interactions, too!
    i don’t have kids, but there are many things on this list that i try to keep in mind, that i fail to keep in mind, and that i wish others would keep in mind (and practice!) on a daily basis.

    david – great anecdote.

  • Mark Merrill

    Julia, thanks for mentioning that! So true!

  • Bruce

    But why? Great one. As my kids got older, I finally told them I don’t answer “why” questions after they had asked to do something. I would ask them if they would ask me “why?” when I told them yes they could do something. They’d laugh because they knew they never asked why if they got their way. So after years of explaining “why?” and then hearing, “yeah, but why?” I decided to often simply say that I was not going to answer “but why” questions any more.

  • dissed and hurt

    David – I so agree with you! We will be reaping the “rewards” of choosing our electornics over our intimate relationships soon. Thank you for sharing your encounter with your friend. It is my hope that many will have an ear to hear.

  • Wway

    We attended a parenting class at church. They gave us tools to teach our children. When talking to another adult, they are not to interrupt. They put their hand on our arm/shoulder and wait until we finish and can turn our attention to them. We also had “table time” in the kitchen when my husband came home from work. The kids went to the living room while mommy and daddy spent 15 or 20 minutes discussing issues of the day. Another thing I noticed my child’s 3K teacher at a private christian school do was when the class did not do what they were asked she turned out the light and said, “Obey me”. The teacher had those kids in line. It worked for me also (without the lights). I incorporated “the look” with it and after a while all I needed was my look. I did get a double take from someone in a store when she heard me tell my then 3yo to obey me. My kids are 16 and 21 now and I still have “the look” look. But I’m guilty of many on the above list. Ok, all of them. Ouch.

  • NCP

    Moving to a cash only budget, I am guilty of saying “We can’t afford that.” , yet I have tried to change those words a little bit to say, “We have the ability to buy that if we really NEED it, but I didn’t budget for that.” We are teaching our kids (11,9,7) that with your own chore money, you can budget for that item on your own by saving a little bit here and there until you have enough. Budgets are a reality. Kids need to get that!